Like so much of its subject’s work, a chronicle of the progression from youthful romanticism to middle-aged disillusionment,...

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FLAUBERT

A LIFE

The French master receives serviceable though not sterling biographical treatment from a translator of Flaubert’s works for Penguin Classics.

Everything about Gustave Flaubert (1821–80) was outsized: roaring voice, whoring, debts, and, most important, literary ambitions. The latter were nourished secretly while he was an indifferent law student (a period likely ended by an epileptic attack), then brought to fruition in a small but painstakingly written corpus of four novels, three short stories, and an abortive attempt at a play. The son and brother of surgeons, he used his pen like a scalpel to anatomize the stultifying provincial bourgeoisie in his masterpiece, Madame Bovary. (Ironically, he avoided Parisian mistress Louise Colet by pleading the need to stay in the provinces to care for his widowed mother and orphaned niece, admitting that he was temperamentally incapable of committing to anything but intellectual freedom.) While not as spectacularly self-destructive as other writers, Flaubert offers a dazzling prospect for a literary biographer: complex, divided personality; battles against epilepsy and syphilis, censorship, penury, and self-doubt; and a vast archive of Waspish, self-pitying, often erotic letters. Wall (Univ. of York) doesn’t drop his opportunity, but he doesn’t exploit its grand possibilities. To his credit, the biographer sometimes offers piercing insights into Flaubert’s methods and themes, noting, for instance, that Madame Bovary represented a “dynamic form of self-multiplication” in which the author’s personality permeated all of his characters. But he does not deal as trenchantly as Herbert Lottman’s Flaubert (1989) with the novelist’s friendships with Turgenev, Maupassant, George Sand, boon-companion Louis Bouilhet, and editor Maxime du Camp. Moreover, Wall could have taken a cue from Flaubert’s restrained style to prune his own melodramatic excess (the affair with Colet was “an ideally imaginative, superstitious, ceremonious, frustrated love”).

Like so much of its subject’s work, a chronicle of the progression from youthful romanticism to middle-aged disillusionment, but narrated without Flaubert’s style and bent for psychological realism. (30 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-15627-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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